As congressional leaders from both parties negotiate over the federal budget, it is important to remember that many Republicans are similarly unsympathetic to the idea that addressing inequality should be a priority. Echoing Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remarks, congressional conservatives routinely blame the safety net for making people “dependent” on government, implying that low-income Americans remain at the bottom of the economic ladder by choice. For instance, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the leading Republican voice on budget issues, has complained that “we’re going to a majority of takers versus makers in America.”
That attitude has been on display throughout the recovery from the massive recession that President Bush left behind, even as the wealthiest Americans recovered their losses and the income gap widened. In each of the past three years, Ryan has authored – and House Republicans have approved – extreme budget plans that shred the safety net while providing tax giveaways to the wealthy and big corporations. Republicans have repeatedly sabotaged bipartisan budget talks by demanding that working Americans shoulder the burden of deficit reduction while dismissing any proposal that requires the rich to pay their fair share. And, despite shamelessly citing the job losses that Obama inherited as evidence of his supposed failure, Republicans have been consistent in obstructing efforts to actually help the unemployed.
After a year in which congressional Republicans blocked comprehensive immigration reform, refused to vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and shut down the government, the post-election promise of a more compassionate and inclusive GOP is a distant memory. For budget negotiations to succeed, Republican leaders must finally reject the extreme elements of their party and accept that the government has a responsibility to protect the interests of all Americans – not just the wealthy contributors who fund their campaigns.